Philosophy Talk Wins Templeton for “Philosophical Guide to the Cosmos”

John Perry and Ken Taylor, professors of philosophy at Stanford University and hosts of the radio program Philosophy Talk, have won a grant from the John Templeton Foundation to produce an eight-episode series called “A Philosophical Guide to the Cosmos.”

The series seems motivated by recent dismissals of philosophy by well-known scientists (see, for example here and here).

From a press release about the grant:

The series takes listeners on a grand philosophical journey through the cosmos, tackling deeply puzzling questions about the nature of the universe, and our knowledge of it.

What is the origin of the universe? What exactly are space and time? Could the laws of physics ever change? Is the universe fine-tuned to support intelligent life? Are we part of a multiverse? And how does science make progress in answering these questions?

Some might wonder if philosophy has any business attempting to stake out positions in this territory when the likes of Tyson and Hawking—giants in the field of cosmology—claim it as exclusively theirs. This new series on the cosmos will be the perfect antidote to the unfortunate parochialism some scientists in the public eye exhibit.

Why does philosophy get these scientists so bent out of shape that they’re almost warping space-time itself, like those recently detected gravitational waves? “I suspect that neither of them ever had a serious philosophy course or read a serious work of philosophy,” says Taylor. “So they are just spouting off.”

“Tyson, in particular, seems like an upbeat kind of guy who could find something nice to say if he put his mind to it,” Perry says. “Maybe he got bit by a philosopher once.”

Contrary to claims that the discipline is dead or useless, “Philosophy, and in particular the philosophy of science, is very much alive, and full of good ideas,” says Perry. If some scientists fail to see that, it’s because they have what Taylor describes as “an impoverished vision of both science and philosophy.” They don’t understand how science and philosophy work together to tackle some of the most perplexing questions there are. “Philosophy alone isn’t going to reveal the nature of time or space, or the size of the universe, or what, if anything, happened ‘before’ the Big Bang,” says Taylor. “But who ever thought that?”…

Even if there is some hostility from the science camp towards philosophy, the feelings are not mutual. Taylor says there is no competition between science and philosophy. “Never has been. Never will be. The two, at their best, have always been partners, not adversaries.”

More information here.

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